From Strategic Forecasting, Inc:
Special Report: Shift in Israeli Operations
At this moment there appears to be a major shift taking place in the war. Though the scope of the operation is unclear, it appears the Israelis have shifted to a new phase of the war, focusing on broader and more intense ground operations. It could be that this is the opening phase of a broader raid-in-force against Hezbollah that might go beyond southern Lebanon. We do not know this for certain, but it does warrant alerting our readers to the possibility. Various bits of evidence point in this direction.
For example, early Sunday Israeli time, an Israel Defense Forces (IDF) spokesman was quoted as saying, "We have drawn our conclusions from battles in other areas, we have learned our lesson and are about to embark on another mission. There is no intention whatsoever to occupy this region or any other -- only to arrive, to act, and when we're done, to get out."
There are reports of new areas involved in fighting and new Israeli units being engaged. For example, Israeli forces are now fighting in the area of Qana. This is a few miles southeast of Tyre and deep into southern Lebanon. We have heard that the Qana action consists of engineers, armor and infantry, indicating a more traditional combined arms effort. The engineers would be clearing mines, bulldozing fortifications and clearing roads damaged by Israeli airstrikes. Infantry would be clearing the area of anti-tank teams and opening the way for broader armored thrusts to destroy rear infrastructure and isolate forward Hezbollah positions.
There are additional reports of engagements near and to the west of the Israeli panhandle in the Dan-Dafna-Metulla region, along with heavy artillery fire in this region. This would be the jump-off point for an attack both westward along the Litani and northward into the Bekaa Valley.
There were extensive reports of a major armored buildup in this area over the past 48 hours.
This would also explain the decision to disengage temporarily at Bent Jbail in preparation for the new phase of operations.
Interestingly, the report about Qana that we have says the attacking force is from the Nahal Division. According to Israeli media, the Galilee Division, which normally has full responsibility for the entire Lebanese border, has been given responsibility for the western half of the border, while Nahal Division has been made responsible for the eastern half. If all of this is true and the Qana fighting is being carried out by Nahal, then the action at Qana represents a drive westward from the northern panhandle rather than a northern drive from Galilee division. This is of great importance because it indicates that the armor massed in the panhandle is moving in a broad encirclement as per traditional IDF doctrine. Nahal has been moving rapidly during daylight hours. Ground operations involving the Golani Brigade were also reported in Taibe last night. If Nahal moved west, it would have passed through Taibe. If the division were planning on a move north to the Bekaa Valley, it will need Taibe. The town is in a critical location.
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has canceled her visit to Lebanon. She is, however, going to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Sunday night and return to the United States on Monday. If nothing important were happening, Rice would stick to her schedule. If the United States objected to what is happening, Israel would postpone until she left or she would be on the plane right now. Therefore, a logical conclusion is that whatever is happening makes her trip to Lebanon pointless or harmful but that she wants to signal that there is no strain in relations with Israel. If there is a major attack coming, Washington has signed off on it.
We are approaching nightfall in Israel. If this is indeed a major shift operationally -- and we simply cannot be certain at this point, in spite of pieces seeming to fall into place -- then we would expend rapid movements of Israeli forces through the night, and we should get a sense by morning, Israel time, of just how deep they expect to go. At this point, having made the decision to shift to larger-scale, more traditional operations, Israel will want to proceed as rapidly as possible for operational and diplomatic reasons. If the Israelis are going, they will be going rapidly.
It should also be noted that Israel attacked key roads and bridges along the Syrian-Lebanese border. This indicates that Israel is not intending to use those roads to attack Syria (otherwise they would have wanted them intact) but does want to protect its flank from any Syrian countermove. It is the least intrusive action Israel can take. They neither want to attack nor be attacked by Syria.
At this point, if this should take place, we will get a better sense of Hezbollah's broader capabilities. Its forward troops seemed to be extremely competent. Whether troops in other areas are equally capable remains to be seen. Also remaining to be seen is the effect of the Israeli air campaign on the militants' numbers, morale and coordination. If they are an effective fighting force, we would expect effective attacks against armored columns using anti-tank weapons and mines, and a slow evolution. If they are severely weakened, as some reports we are receiving from Lebanon say they are, the attack will be broader.
Remember that in our view Hezbollah does not expect to defeat Israel's main force, but wants to draw it into Lebanon to impose an Iraqi/Afghan style insurgency. Therefore, an apparent collapse of Hezbollah (as with the Taliban and Saddam Hussein's forces) does not necessarily mean defeat but rather can mean a shift to insurgency rather than conventional resistance. As the IDF statement makes clear, Israel does not intend to occupy and expose itself to such actions. It should also be remembered that both within and outside of Lebanon, Hezbollah has historically used terror techniques to impose penalties on enemies and shape the political environment. Hezbollah pioneered suicide bombing in Lebanon during the 1980s.
In conclusion, we do not have definitive intelligence that Israel has shifted to a radical new course. This could simply be another phase in a piecemeal operation. However, given Israeli practice in the past and political disputes within the Israeli government, we regard it as reasonable to alert our readers to the possibility of the beginning phases of a major, more traditional Israeli ground offensive designed to destroy Hezbollah in detail. We will know more clearly over the next 12 hours.
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